The Sixers draft strategy has adhered to the principle of "best player available" in devout fashion the last three years. Bryan Colangelo might represent change for the organization, but their strategy at the top of the draft appears to remain intact.
During an appearance on this morning's episode of the 94.1 WIP Morning Show, Colangelo chatted with aviation enthusiast and occasional radio personality Howard Eskin about a host of draft topics. About a third of the way through the interview, Colangelo discussed the role fit will play in his plans for this summer:
We're going to try to find balance to a roster that ultimately takes the court in October, November. We're going to be able to utilize, maybe, the 24th and 26th pick, or packaging those picks to move up in the draft to get somebody else, or acquiring players in trades that are going to provide more balance to the roster. That's when you start talking about fit.
As you look at what you do have, in terms of talent on this roster currently, there are some redundancies that need to be cleaned up, I've openly talked about that. That's not to say any one particular player is being shopped or we're going to trade a particular player, as has been speculated on. There's so much that this team needs to do to get better in terms of being competitive, we're going to be exploring every option and every alternative.
When we start looking at perhaps picking someone at No. 1, what you do with 24 and 26 could be a pick more about fit. I would tell you if we were going to battle with the current roster as its on the board today, there may be a player that fits better than the other, but that's not what we're basing our selection at No. 1 on this year.
If you're in the camp that believes Ben Simmons is the clear No. 1 prospect -- and I think most people on this site fall into that category -- you can read this as another indication of who the Sixers will select on June 23rd. Many of Simmons' ticks in the minus column are tied to concerns about how he fits this group of Sixers, and Colangelo suggests that's not a thing they're worried about.
Frankly, that's the right way to approach this opportunity. A shot at a possible generational talent is considerably more important than how said player fits alongside the skeleton of a roster that barely cracked double digits in wins. They certainly need to address the minutes crunch and skewed roster at some point, but the idea should always be to amplify the best talent at your disposal, whether they're on the roster already or available to you via the draft and free agency.
The point about fit focus at 24 and 26 is important as well. Players' ability to grow will always be dependent on factors outside of their control, which is only amplified as natural talent drops off further down in drafts. It sounds great to count how many teams "missed" on late-draft prospects who outshine lottery guys, but in many cases those late-draft successes would not have blossomed without the specific infrastructure provided by the organization that selected them.
For those interested in what the team's outlook is regarding free agency, Colangelo talked about where he feels the organization is at on that front (bold emphasis mine):
We may be a year or two years away from having a strong enough story to sell — a key or significant free agent. It might be that we're just a little bit young in the process. We are taking the steps necessary to establish a winning culture, a winning desire to express that not only in our actions in terms of trades and draft selections and other things that we do, but we need to show it on the court as well.
What may be a lot of flexibility this year may be put to use on what I would call 'shorter term deals' or 'placeholder deals' that put us in a more competitive situation so that we can really turn the corner in free agency and subsequent seasons with two things: with a better story with a lot of flexibility.
The one thing we don't want to do is race out and sign mid-level free agents — not necessarily mid-level contract free agents — but middle tier free agents that's gonna put us in a level of mediocrity. If we feel we can get a key piece thats gonna be a part of something for the next five years in terms of the outlook and future outlook for this team, then I think we should move on it. if not, I think we should stay flexible, we should stay short, and we should stay intent on turning the corner competitively and show those signs of progress as an organization.
That's a reassuring sentence for anyone who thought the team might throw a max-contract offer at a player not worthy of the distinction this summer. It still doesn't rule out a big contract for one of the top free agents this summer, but thankfully the organizational shift does not mean the Sixers want to rush back to the middle.
It's still a little strange to have a GM running the media gauntlet so heavily after the last three years of calculated silence, but Colangelo appears to be saying a lot of the right things so far. Whether he does the right things to push the franchise forward remains up for debate.